Becca Hardwick shares the story of some ducks who came to visit. Thank you for this lovely essay, Becca!
The first time I heard my boyfriend shout, “The ducks are here!”, I had no idea what a common and happy phrase that would become at our house over the next four months. The ducks waddled and quacked their way into our lives one sunny, early spring afternoon in April of 2020. We were well into our experience of lockdown due to COVID-19. Being stuck at home in the same predictable routine was already becoming tiresome. The ducks were a welcome surprise.
Their appearance on our property was not the first time we had seen them. Earlier that day, my boyfriend and I took our dogs for a walk and saw the group of seven magnificent ducks standing together at the edge of a nearby property. They were a colorful group consisting of two mallards, two brown ducks, two gray ducks, and one that was all white. Knowing nothing about domesticated ducks, at first we thought they were wild ducks from a nearby lake. We admired their beauty, said hello, and continued on our walk.
We thoroughly enjoyed their visit that afternoon. The ducks drank water from a spout on our pond and swam in the dogs’ kiddie pool. They happily waddled up close to us as we fed them whatever we could find in the pantry that might work, such as scraps of bread and crumbled rice cakes. We took countless pictures and videos which we shared on social media. We spent time observing them and researching ducks online. Clearly they were domesticated ducks, not ducks from the nearby lake.
As the afternoon grew into evening, we realized these ducks were staying, at least for now. We were concerned because we had nowhere to keep them safe for the night, away from the various predators in our country area. As darkness fell, the ducks huddled together at the top of our driveway where our outside lights illuminated them. We went to bed worried and uneasy, certain they would not last the night.
Early the next morning, we were delighted to see them still grouped together in the same spot thanks to Zoey, our 11-year-old shepherd/chow mix. She had dutifully stayed out all night, barking away predators. Zoey has always been serious about her job to protect us and our land, and this was no exception. She was exhausted from her big night and spent the rest of the day under a tree, in a well-deserved, deep nap.
Realizing that these were someone’s pet ducks, I posted on Nextdoor and the local pet lost & found Facebook groups in case someone was looking for them. I never received any responses and we began to suspect these were our new pet ducks, here to stay.
Lockdown suddenly got more interesting with the arrival of the ducks. It gave us something to focus on instead of the uncertainty of the world. Rather than worrying about how fast the virus was spreading, whether or not we’d get sick, or how long lockdown would last, our minds were absorbed by the ducks.
First we needed to fix up the old chicken coop on our property to provide a safe space for them. We began by clearing a path through the overgrown brambles. Then we visited the local feed store and purchased duck food, bowls for water and food, and straw and wood shavings for bedding.
Our next challenge was to practice getting them inside the coop. Our black lab, Zander, assisted us in herding them in the right direction and after only a few failed attempts, we succeeded. They seemed satisfied with their new home. After the first night, they would sometimes take themselves there at dusk. We went to bed that night feeling content that we had done our best to keep them safe.
As the days passed, we were learning a lot about ducks, both from research and from simple observation. We now knew how many males versus females we had based on curly tail feathers. We learned that domesticated ducks don’t fly. We saw them communicate with one another, and observed what a cohesive group they were and how close they physically stuck together. We learned about their mating habits (and witnessed some of those behaviors, too) and we hoped they would lay eggs. It was fun to observe something about them and then research it online.
It was also interesting to observe how our cats and dogs responded to our new friends. Misty, our indoor-outdoor cat, was miffed because the ducks liked to hang out in her usual spot under the bird feeder. Zander, the black lab, liked to follow behind the ducks and eat duck food at feeding time. Zoey, of course, protected them. And our indoor cats loved watching them from the windows.
One day, the ducks left. We watched them waddle away and tried to herd them back, but they were determined to leave. We had grown fond of them and it was sad to see them go, but we felt grateful for the experience. We told ourselves they were just going back to their home. Maybe this had just been a vacation for them. The lucky ducks weren’t restricted by lockdown like us, and they were free to come and go.
Two days later, I awoke in the morning to my boyfriend shouting, “The ducks are here!” and I jumped out of bed to see for myself. We were overjoyed to have them back. This pattern of leaving and returning continued over the next four months. Some nights they’d stay in the coop and some days they would leave at dusk. They never stayed away for more than a few days with the exception of one time when they disappeared for two weeks, and we were sure that was the end of it. We never found out where they were going but were always happy to see them return.
If the ducks were gone for more than a day, one of us would inevitably ask the other sadly, “Where are the ducks?” Surprisingly, they would often appear soon after we asked that. I kept a journal and documented each visit and who got to yell, “The ducks are here!” They brought us so much joy in a time of darkness and uncertainty.
We knew the ducks would not be with us forever and we dreaded the day they stopped coming to visit. They exited our lives as mysteriously as they had appeared. Fortunately we had four beautiful months to spend with them, to learn, to enjoy, to love. They not only waddled onto our property that sunny spring day, they also waddled their way right into our hearts.